Tag Archives: moral injury

The Hero Betrayed: Gouverneur Warren, Little Round Top and Moral Injury

gkwarren

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another article from one of my yet unpublished boos on the Battle of Gettysburg. Hopefully my agent will find a home for it. That being said the men who fought that battle were very little different from the men and women that serve in our armed forces today. I find a particular affinity with this man, Gouverneur Warren.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Throughout this study we have been looking at how leaders at various levels in conduct of campaigns as well as battles make decisions. Likewise we examine the lives and character of those leaders as it applies to their actions at critical points of a battle. In this chapter we will examine three officers whose lives, character and actions at Gettysburg, specifically at Little Round Top exemplify two of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes, “to anticipate and adapt to surprise and uncertainty” and the principle of Mission Command, to “operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding.” It is from those perspectives that we will look at this part of the battle, but we would be amiss if we did not address the nearly mythical status to which this action has risen.

The actions of three men at the Battle of Little Round Top; Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren, the Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, Colonel Strong Vincent, commanding Third Brigade, First Division, V Corps and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment of Vincent’s brigade are very important to the outcome of the battle, but also for what they teach us about leadership and the profession of arms. This chapter focuses on Warren, in particular with his work with the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, George Meade and his actions to secure Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, the next will deal with Chamberlain and Vincent.

The battle at Little Round Top is an iconic part of American History and in particular for the Army, a key element of how leadership has been studied. It has achieved nearly mythical status due to the actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain which have been told many times in history, fiction and in film, particularly Michael Shaara’s classic historical novel The Killer Angels and its film adaptation Gettysburg. While these accounts are certainly inspiring and allow us to experience the emotion and near spiritual quality of what Chamberlain writes, there is much more to learn.

That near spiritual quality and mythic status that we accord Gettysburg is important, for in large part it is why we come to the battlefield, and why we study. Chamberlain said it well many years after Gettysburg at the dedication of the Maine Monuments:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [1]

So as we endeavor to look at the actions of these leaders on that fateful day it is important to recognize that we cannot totally separate those actions that helped decide the battle from the mythos that surrounds the story. [2] Likewise, it important to acknowledge that we cannot separate their character and the totality of military leaders lives from their actions on a particular battlefield. Unlike Chamberlain Warren does not engender myth, and that is why he is often overlooked by many casual students and observers of the Battle of Gettysburg.

For the purposes of this study it is important to note that Warren was not a commander during this action, he was, like most senior officers today, a staff officer. Many times students of military history and theory are inclined to dismiss the contributions of staff officers because they do not have the overall responsibility of a battle, or the glamour of the limelight of the commanders that they serve under. However, for military professionals, especially those serving on senior staffs who prepare campaign plans, contingency plans and crisis plans the study of officers like Warren is essential.

The Federal Army at Gettysburg, like its Confederate opponent had a wide variety of officers serving in its ranks. Many of its senior officers were graduates of West Point. Many had served together in Mexico and in the various campaigns against Native American tribes. Those who stayed in the Army during the long “peace” between the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War endured the monotony, boredom and often miserable conditions of isolated army posts, long family separations, as well as low pay, slow promotion and often low social status.[3] In light of such conditions, many resigned their commissions to undertake various professional, business or academic pursuits; in fact Samuel Huntington noted that in the years before the Civil War that “West Point produced more railroad presidents than generals.” [4] However, on the outbreak of the war returned to service whether in the service of the Union, or the Confederate States.

When the war began the Army underwent a massive expansion, which it met through and the call of up militia and raising new units from the various states. In the expansion many officers were appointed who had no prior military service, or if they did it was performed years or even decades before the war. Some of these men were simply patriots who rallied to the flag, others due to a sense of righteousness about their cause, while others were political opportunists or appointees. In the north this was a particular problem as “professional officers were pushed aside and passed over in the Union, the higher commissions going, in the first stages of the war at least to officers called back into service or directly appointed from civilian life, many of them “political” appointees.” [5]

At times the lack of experience, training and sometimes the poor character of these men was tragic. However, many of these men performed as well or better than some of their regular army counterparts at various levels of command. At the same time a good number of Regular Army officers were allowed to assist states in the formation and training of these new units, one of whom was Gouverneur Warren. Gettysburg would provide opportunity for the best and worst of all of these types of officers to succeed or fail. In this chapter we will look at one of the regular officers and two of the volunteer whose lives intersected on July 2nd 1863.

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren was typical of the many professional officers of the old army. An 1850 graduate of West Point, Warren was a bright student who had absorbed the teachings of his professor, Dennis Hart Mahan as the core of his own military thought, both in his senior year in college and through reinforcement as a faculty member. [6] Warren was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant and because of his high standing in his class was assigned to Corps of Topographical Engineers. He spent his first seven years in a number of assignments which took him throughout much of the country.

Warren’s work involved exploring and mapping for various enterprises including the project to help tame the Mississippi River, and the exploration of the Great Plains and Black Hills where he developed a sympathy for the various Sioux tribes he encountered noting on completion of his mission in 1858, writing that He had never heard a Sioux chief express an opinion in regard to what was due them in which I do not concur and that many of them view the extinction of their race as an inevitable result of the operation of present causes, and do so with all the feelings of despair with which we should contemplate the extinction of our nationality. [7] Following his years in the west he returned as faculty to West Point where he as an Assistant Professor, shared mathematics instructional duties with Oliver O. Howard and resumed his relationship with his former professor Mahan. [8]

On the outbreak of war Warren was granted leave from his duties at West Point to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as Duryee’s Zouaves. Where Duryee was appointed as a Brigadier General, Warren became its Colonel, serving with it during the Peninsula campaign where he was eventually given command of a provisional brigade and promoted to Brigadier General, serving as a Brigade Commander in at Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.

At Chancellorsville he was pulled from his brigade duties by Hooker who employed him with good effect to assist his engineering staff, first with mapping and then building the fortifications that stopped the ferocious Confederate storm on the second day of battle. [9] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [10] Edward Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery officer noted that when the Confederates came upon the fortifications after Hooker’s withdraw that “they were amazed at the strength and completeness of the enemys fortifications. [11] Following the battle Warren was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac on May 12th 1863 by Hooker. When Hooker was relieved of command and was replaced by Meade on June 28th 1863, he was kept in that position by his fellow engineer Meade rather than being promoted to a division or being assigned as Meade’s Chief of Staff. As this turned out it was a wise choice.

Warren along with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st. As Meade organized his defenses he not only depended on his advice about the ground, but “consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance.” [12] Meade respected Warren and had offered Warren the chance to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position that Warren, like Seth Williams, the Adjutant General declined that offer indicating that he had too much work in their departments to take on the burdens of a new job. [13] Lee appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment.[14] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission moved his Corps forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank in the air, Meade was aghast. Warren who from his reconnaissance of the previous day and the morning knew the position better than anyone recognized that something was badly awry on SicklesThird Corps front  matters there were not all straight. [15] He had sent an officer to discover to investigate Sickles’ front and that officer reported that the section of Cemetery Ridge assigned to III Corps was not occupied.[16]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [17] and knowing VI Corps was now close at hand order V Corps, at the time his only reserve into the position vacated by Sickles. They went forward and seeing the empty spaces Warren told Meade “here is where our line should be” to which Meade replied: “It’s too late now.” [18] Warren, whose familiarity with the whole of the battlefield gave him concern about Sickles’ corps dispositions suggest that Meade send him to the Federal left, “to examine the condition of affairs.” [19]

Meade concurred with his Engineer and in dispatching him he also gave Warren the authority to take charge as needed saying “I wish you would ride over there and if anything serious is going on, attend to it.” [20] Again Meade’s choice of Warren for the task demonstrated the trust that is essential in command. The two officers worked together seamlessly and as Coddington described their relationship that day: “Meade chose him to act as his alter ego in crucial moments of the battle, and Warren rendered services for which Meade and the country were to be eternally grateful.” [21]Warren would not see Meade again “until the attack had spent its force.” [22]

little round top map

Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [23]When Warren arrived on Little Round Top he found it unoccupied save for a few signal corps soldiers. Warren immediately recognized the tactical value of Little Round Top and noted that it was “the key of the whole position.” [24]Warren saw that the Confederates were massing not more than a mile away and that there were no troops on the hill to stop them. He believed that an area “of woods on the near side of the Emmitsburg Road as “an excellent place for the enemy to form out of sight” [25] which was exactly what Major General John Bell Hood’s division was doing, as Henry Hunt noted “The enemy at the time lay concealed, awaiting signal for the assault…” [26] To test his suspicions Warren sent a messenger to Captain James Smith’s 4th New York artillery battery on Devil’s Den to fire a single shot into the woods. Warren described the situation:

“As the shot went whistling through the air the sound of it reached the enemy’s troops and caused every one to look in the direction of it. This motion revealed to me the glistening gun-barrels and bayonets of the enemy’s line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops; so that the line of his advance from the right to Little Round Top was unopposed. I have been particular in telling this, as the discovery was intensely thrilling to my feelings, and almost appalling.” [27]

warren lrt

Upon confirming his fears Warren resorted to ruse and action. He order the “signalmen to keep up their wigwag activity, simply as a pretense of alertness, whether they had any real signals to transmit or not…”[28] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [29] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [30] Sickles refused on account of how badly stretched his lines were, however George Sykes of V Corps responded sending Captain William Jay to find Barnes commander of his 1st Division. The messenger could not find Barnes, but instead came across the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent knew that Barnes was self-medicating his “pre-battle anxieties out of a black commissary quart bottle” and was already “hollow from skull to boots” and demanded “What are your orders? Give me your orders.” [31] Upon learning that Sykes wanted a brigade to proceed to Little Round Top Vincent responded immediately to take the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission. Vincent told Sykes messenger “I will take the responsibility myself of taking my brigade there.” [32]

Meade’s choice of Warren was demonstrated in how Warren continued to act with alacrity and decisiveness throughout the afternoon. “As the Union line began to crumble on Little Round Top, Warren, vested with the authority of Meade’s chief representative, emerged as the right man at the right place at the right time.” [33] Warren did not stop with sending messengers, but seeing the danger building he noted that the northwest face of the hill was still unoccupied and open to attack. Warren forgot “all about a general’s dignity” he “sprinted down the east slope of the hill like a rabbit.” [34] There he found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. Since he did not see Weed, but he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [35] When O’Rorke said that Weed expected him to be following him Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [36] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following. Warren’s actions were fortuitous as the 140th New York and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery of the 5th Artillery arrived at the crest just in time to repulse the advancing Confederates. In the fight the brigade would take fearful casualties and by the end of the battle, Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[37]

Warren continued to urge on the Federal troops despite being wounded, in the words of a reporter who observed him in “a most gallant and heroic manner, riding with utmost confidence over fields swept by the enemy’s fire, seemingly everywhere present, directing, aiding, and cheering the troops.” [38] Once he was assured that Little Round Top was secure he proceeded to rejoin Meade “near the center of the battlefield where another crisis was at hand.” [39]

Warren distinguished as a Corps commander until he ran afoul of the fiery General Phillip Sheridan in 1865. Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. The relief was brutal and ruined his career. Warren was a professional soldier and took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan who in their haste at Five Forks destroyed his career.

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineeringduty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. He wrote his wife while supervising a major bridge construction project over the Mississippi River in 1867: “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [40]

He sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but he died three months before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors. His funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [41] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.” [42]

Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive for, and from a leadership perspective demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command“the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates. But his life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry wrote of Warren:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [43]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize. His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [44]

Warren

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes like Gouverneur Warren are destroyed by the actions of institutions that they serve.

Notes

[1] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

[2] Note: My use of the terms myth, mythology or mythos should not be considered negative, and the use of the terms does not mean that there is not some degree of fact or truth in them. The definitions of the term mythos are important to understanding my use of the term here, first it denotes a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure of a story, and secondly a set of beliefs or assumptions about something. (See the Oxford American Dictionary.)

[3] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 pp.37-38.

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.199

[5] Ibid. Huntington. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations p.213

[6] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.6

[7] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.30

[8] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.33

[9] Sears, Stephen W. ChancellorsvilleHoughton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

[10] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.91

[11] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7007

[12] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.332

[13] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 pp.129-130

[14] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.332

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

[16] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.319

[17] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.319

[18] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[19] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.90

[20] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[21] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.260

[23] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p. 307

[24] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[25] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[26] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. p. 307

[27] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.206

[28] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.503

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.261

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[32] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

[33] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.395

[34] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the IncredibleStan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

[35] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[37] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren pp. 93-94

[38] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[39] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.396

[40] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.249

[41] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[42] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[43] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[44] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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What Have We Done? Moral Injury and Our Unending Wars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is not every day that one reads about himself in a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent and author. I did that this week. Back in 2014 I was interviewed by David Wood for his book What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars. After the interview I kept going with life struggling with the daily effects of PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury in my life. The book came out in late 2016 or early 2017 but I didn’t know that it had until Sunday when I read some comments by Army Chaplains in a Facebook Group that I am fortunate to be a member.

When I found out the book had been published I immediately purchased it on Amazon Kindle and will get a hard cover copy as well. Of course I search for my name and went to the chapter in which David told my story. It was very good, so I began reading the book from the beginning. David is an exceptional writer and having spent many years in combat zones and embedded in American combat units at war he has earned his stripes, and what he writes is so vivid and real that to me it brought back too many memories, painful memories of the war and what I experienced when I came home flooded me. I again recalled the words of the great Union General and hero of Little Round Top, Gouverneur Warren that he wrote his wife in 1867:

“I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

It was not reading my story that got me, it was reading the stories of Marines, soldiers, and other Chaplains that got me. I knew that I wasn’t alone. I have seen carnage. I have been shot at, and I have been in danger many times, always unarmed; that I would do again. In fact in my FITREP debrief from my commanding officer and executive officer both noted that where I stood out the most was in crisis situations dealing with death and trauma. Truthfully, that is how I am wired and it has always been that way. Sadly my current billet, which will certainly unless everything goes to shit will be the one that I will retire from is more suited to men or women who do well in the bureaucracy and management. Outside of crises and trauma situations I do best teaching and writing, but I digress…

David’s book triggered memories. I had to make a note not to read it before bedtime because on Sunday night when I finished the second chapter I took my sleep meds, put on my CPAP, and had my therapy puppy Izzy snuggled around my head. I closed my eyes and the flashbacks began. When I finally went to sleep the nightmares began. They have not ended. The Alsatian German Soldier, Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier:

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”

While I write about my private war with PTSD and Moral Injury I say little or nothing about it now to superiors, in fact after serving with me for over a year my Commander didn’t know how I struggle. I admitted it to him during the debrief and he was surprised. I guess that is a good thing because since “coming out” with PTSD in 2009 having already dealt with it for a year discovered that I had become one of the untouchables. Though I was selected for promotion to Commander in 2010 I was shunted off into billets that made me noncompetitive for promotion to Captain. I realized that in 2011 when the newly promoted deputy Chief of Chaplains treated me as if I was a nonentity when she made her tour of the commands at the base I was then serving. In 2014 when the Washington Times published an article on their front page about my story it went completely unacknowledged by the Chief of Chaplains office in Washington DC. I didn’t even get a call from a staff member asking if I was okay.

I can understand how Gouverneur Warren felt when he was cast off at the end of the Civil War, but then I also remember how a Comcast seasoned EOD Master Chief Petty Officer told me that “you can admit and get help for PTSD but you will never again get assigned to the billets that get you promoted.” He was right and truthfully I am okay with that, I can say that I am happy where I am now, not to say that if given the chance I wouldn’t hesitate to go in harms way again. My nightmares this week seem to lead me to believe that that may happen before I retire from the military, but again I digress…

I highly recommend David’s book to you. It is probably the best account of the war and its unintended consequences that I have ever read. Please read it if you really care about those of us who have been to war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or to go back further Vietnam have experienced. When you are done with it you too may ask What have we done?

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Poetry of Fear: Nightmares and Moral Wounds

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in the Count of Monte Cristo“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

That is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Anyway, I have spent my evening watching the musicals Chicago and Mama Mia in order to take my mind off of all that is going on in the world. Now it is time for bed and the world of dreams and nightmares. Thankfully I will get up in the morning and carry on with life, even joyfully.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Insult to Combat Veterans: Army Chaplains Invite PTSD Denier Kenneth Copeland to National Prayer Breakfast

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Kenneth Copeland in front of His Private Jet which he Flies Because “Demons fly Commercial” 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been mulling over writing about this since I first learned that the heretical Prosperity Gospel preacher Kenneth Copeland had been invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast at Fort Jackson South Carolina. In 2013 Copeland along with the faux Christian “historian” David Barton claimed on Copeland’s television show that PTSD is not real because PTSD is not Biblical

Copeland, who is a member of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Council has had his ministry issue a clarification of his remarks, but that being said the “clarification” smacked of more of a defense of his theology than a compassionate attempt to understand the ravages of PTSD.

I wish I was kidding, but neither Copeland or Barton have ever served in the military or been in combat and now Copeland is speaking this morning at the Fort Jackson NCO Club. Copeland is a self-described Christian Extremist  claimed on his show with Barton nodding in agreement that PTSD doesn’t effect true believers.

The Garrison Chaplain’s Office was a key part of that decision. I know a number of Chaplains stationed at the Post who protested in vain about the decision to invite Copeland. The breakfast is voluntary, but I can testify from years of military service in both the Army and the Navy that attendance is highly encouraged and chaplains are routinely pressured by senior conservative Evangelical Christian chaplains and commanding officers regardless of their own beliefs. The pressure is most effective on younger junior chaplains or other junior officers, typically company commanders or battalion or brigade staff officers.

Really, I first experienced this when I was a company commander in Wiesbaden Germany in 1986, as a brigade staff officer at Fort Sam Houston Texas in 1987, a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain in Germany in 1996, and a number of other times. The last one of these was when I was at Camp Lejeune North Carolina in 2000. I guess that I was lucky that deployments and operational commitments kept me from attending such events until I came back from Iraq in February of 2008. After that deployment suffering from severe PTSD and a crisis in faith I only attended one more at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in 2009, and once I became a senior and supervisory Chaplain I refused to serve as the host to such events because they are all too often platforms for politicians to ingratiate themselves with the military and as photo ops for high flying preachers who then use the video or pictures to show to their followers how they support the military and in the process use those for fundraising purposes. If chaplains want to bow the knee to that kind of idolatry and to use that rather old-fashioned and judgmental word “sin” than they can, but I won’t.

But Copeland has no shame. His comments about PTSD and the trauma experienced in combat are not limited to his 2013 show but are found throughout his remarks which are reckless and full of incredibly poor biblical exegesis and hackneyed heretical theology. My God, I’m actually sounding like I am orthodox in my Christian beliefs despite being liberal, but that’s because I am.

But I do struggle with faith every day. From 2008 to just before Christmas of 2009 I was struggling so badly that I was for all purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed even as I dealt with people in life and death situations on a daily basis as a critical care ICU chaplain at the Naval Medical Center. I figure that I believe now about 60% of the time, and when I do I really believe, when I don’t it is to be gently described as difficult.

I have lived with PTSD for a decade. I know what it is to be clinically depressed, suicidal, and to be labeled and ostracized by Christians, other clergy, chaplains, and long time friends all because what I was going through did not match their theology. I have been honest in  documenting my struggle with PTSD and moral injury on this blog which I began in February 2009 in past as a way to process what was happening to me, as well as my struggle with faith and belief. Because of that was contacted by reporters and with the help of caring Pubic Affairs Officers and commanders I was able to share my story in the Jacksonville NC Daily News, the Washington TimesHuffington Post the Department of DOD Real Warriors Campaign project. All were terrifying experiences because even though I wrote about my story here, the fact that they went out in local, national, and DOD sites exposed me to more publicity than I could sometimes deal with but I did them to encourage other veterans, especially those in helping and caring professions,; physicians, nurses, chaplains, corpsmen, and medics to see help and not suffer alone and in silence.

I am sure that has affected my career and I while some people were quite compassionate a lot, especially Christians were not. As far as my career went I was effectively sidelined after Iraq and placed in billets that very few were ever promoted out of, and ultimately that is okay because it made me realize what is really important in caring for and leading men and women in the military. I probably will retire as a Navy Commander in two years, maybe three, and move on with life after what will then be 39 to 40 years of military service. Since I spent 17 1/2 years in the Army and resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve to go on active duty as a Navy Lieutenant in 1999 I have nothing to be ashamed of; I don’t know too many people who have risen to be a Field Grade Officer in the Army and a Senior Officer in the Navy. I am profoundly grateful that I still am able to serve and to care for young sailors, marines, soldiers, and chaplains.

In the mean time I still suffer the effects. I am doing a lot better now in large part because of my wife Judy and my three Papillon dogs, Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre. Izzy especially is very sensitive to my moods and we often describe her as “Nurse Izzy.” That being said in 2015 I crashed so badly that my colleagues at the Joint forces Staff College feared for me and ensured that I got help. I have suffered concussions, sprained my neck, bruised my jaw, and broken my nose during various combat related night terrors.

I have had friends, including chaplains, commanders, and others who I have served with lose their careers, families, and even take their lives while struggling with PTSD. Some were much better Christians than I could ever hope to be, and the presence of Kenneth Copeland speaking on one of the Army’s largest training bases where there are many young, vulnerable, and impressionable recruits who have never been to war, but who probably end up at war is offensive to me.

I am not against faith, spiritual fitness, or finding inspiration and help for life’s struggles in the Bible; but I am against charlatans of any kind that spout all kinds of base doctrines while profiting off of their victims, or should I say followers?

So anyway, to Mr. Copeland and those who invited him,  have a nice breakfast. I hope that the bacon gives you indigestion and the undercooked scrambled eggs give you the shits.

I’ll get hate mail for this as there is nothing more unforgiving and vengeful than fundamentalists scorned.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Reflections on PTSD and Moral Injury after a Gettysburg Staff Ride


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity which has involved a transfer, travel, and teaching, coupled with finding that I was not selected for promotion. The failure to select for promotion was less of a disappointment with not being selected, or jealousy towards those that were, but rather the feelings of betrayal I feel towards the senior leaders of the Chaplain Corps that have been part of my life since I returned from Iraq back in 2008, and my ever present battle with the effects of PTSD. Since I have written about these things many times I shall not go into depth about them today.

While I was at Gettysburg I stood beside the monument to General Gouverneur Warren on Little Round Top as I discussed Warren’s actions which were decisive in ensuring that Union forces held that edifice against the Confederate assault of July 2nd 1863. However, Warren would suffer unjustly at the hands of General Philip Sheridan at the Battle of Five Forks just days before the end of the war. The effects of combat trauma, what we would now diagnose as PTSD and moral injury at having been betrayed by the leaders of an institution that he had faithfully served in war and peace were devastating to him. After the war he wrote his wife:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” 

I fully understand what Warren felt in terms of dreams and what they call to mind time and time again nearly every night. Whenever I go to bed I pray that I will not again injure myself during a nighttime as I have numerous times, two of which sent me to the emergency room with head and facial injuries including a concussion and a broken nose. Yet even the dreams and nightmares that do not result in physical injury are often disturbing, and thankfully one of our Papillon dogs, Izzy, will do all that she can to comfort me and calm me down, and if I am awake and she senses that I am depressed or anxious she does what she can to be near me and to calm me. She is incredibly sensitive and does this with anyone not feeling well. I need to get her certified as a therapy dog as she is a special soul. 

Even so there are really very few people with whom I can talk about these things as they are foreign to the experience of most people. Guy Sager wrote in his classic book The Forgotten Soldier of his experience on returning home after the Second World War: “In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.” 

But anyway, that is where I live. I am happy, relatively content, and look forward to life. I love to teach as I did at Gettysburg over the weekend and to write, at the same time I struggle every night with sleep, and with belonging in the institution that I have served for nearly thirty-six years. After I found out about the non-selection for promotion I became quite angry, as I said, not because I wasn’t selected, but because of the feelings of betrayal that go back now some nine years. It helped for me to walk in the woods along the Potomac River on Thursday night and to walk the lines that the Union Union First Corps occupied on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg last Friday. For me there is something about walking hallowed ground which no matter what I am feeling helps to center me. It is as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

Every time I walk that hallowed ground at Gettysburg I feel that presence and experience the power of that vision.

So I do wish you the best and appreciate the kind thoughts and words that many of you post on this page, in emails, and on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Until tomorrow, have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Loose thoughts and musings, mental health, PTSD

The Uncounted Cost of War: Veteran Suicides

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler probably discussed the true cost of war better than anyone. Butler, a two time Medal of Honor winner wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

Mangled bodies, shattered minds. The bodies get counted, the minds do not, and when a Marine, Sailor, Soldier, Airman or former serviceman or women ends their life due to suicide their name is not included on the casualty reports.

In January 2014 the Veterans Administration released a disturbing report that male veterans under 30 years old saw a 44% increase in the rate of suicide. The rate for women veterans increased by 11%. About 22 veterans a day committed suicide in 2013. That did not count those still on active duty numbers which are still high but have dropped somewhat since 2012 and previous years.

The VA National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention, Jan Kemp said “Their rates are astronomically high and climbing…” Kemp postulated that reasons for the spike might include “the pressures of leaving military careers, readjusting to civilian life and combat injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder…”

I believe that the stigma that many felt about getting psychological help while they were in the military continues on when they enter civilian life. Unlike the military where there is still some sense of camaraderie and a chance that the chain of command might force a service member to get help, no corresponding structure or community exists in the civilian world. Young veterans are often isolated and face new stresses while they are already on edge. Many find that the military occupation specialties that they trained for have no direct civilian counterpart, leaving them struggling in the civilian job market. Combat injuries as well as injuries sustained in training often continue on, limiting what they can do and the unseen injuries of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and Moral Injury, often undiagnosed and untreated lurk in the background.

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This is a national tragedy and crisis. Many of these young men and women are among the best and brightest. They volunteered to serve in time of war and now as the military, especially the Army and Marine Corps begin to shed large numbers of troops, many more will be thrust into a world that they may be ill equipped to survive.

They will attempt to go to work or attend school, quite often alone. There they will be surrounded by people who have no idea of the issues that they face or understanding of the military world that they left, or the places that they served. I think this social isolation will be a killer for many.

My recommendation is that people who work or go to school with these young veterans, or for that matter any veteran get to know them. Help them adjust to the world and keep an eye on them. Ask them how they are doing and just show that you care. You do not have to be a veteran to do that. Likewise get to know about the resources that are available for veterans and help direct them to them. Have the courage to care.

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Resources include the Veterans Crisis Hotline which is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached at (800)-273-8255, press 1, or here to chat online. They also allow veterans to send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day.

Another resource is the Real Warriors Live Chat. The a trained health resource consultant is ready to talk, listen and provide guidance and resources. They can be reached by calling 866-966-1020 or going to their live chat service here http://www.realwarriors.net/livechat.

Afterdeployment.org http://afterdeployment.t2.health.mil offers wellness resources for the Military Community. Service members in transition to civilian life can contact inTransition by calling 800-424-7877 or at their website http://www.health.mil/InTransition/default.aspx

To me this is personal. I still suffer from the effects of PTSD, TBI, Moral Injury and have been to the brink of suicide. I am doing a lot better, and I love life, and I can’t imagine living it without me.

However, I have known far too many veterans who have taken their own lives, or struggle with mental health issues, physical injuries and illness, or social isolation. Last January, about the time the VA report came out a brilliant and heroic senior officer I knew, Captain Tom Sitsch who helped me when I was collapsing due to the effects of PTSD took his own life. This is something that all of us have a stake in. Please help look out for our veterans.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under leadership, mental health, Military, PTSD, suicide

It’s Not You It’s Me: Firing Your Military Therapist

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Another week, another therapist… At least that is what it seems like to me. Those who have been following my writings for any length of time know of my struggles with PTSD and its associated maladies, as well as my struggles dealing with the military mental health system. This week is no different.

Last week I got a new “bungee-therapist” who I would have had less than three months before his rotation at the clinic is done. He is a nice young man, only 32 years old, I have been in the military longer than he he has been alive. He still in his residency; well trained, but not very experienced and it shows. Truthfully, though I don’t have as much specific education in psychology as the provider, I do have more clinical experience working with trauma and PTSD than the young man.

So on the second appointment I fired him. I think the biggest issue was what I saw as a lack of continuity in care and the mismatch in age and experience.

I was really anxious about the visit. This was based on an experience with another young provider last year. That experience caused me to crash and have some troubling thoughts about offing myself. Since I love life and am not a fan of taking the eternal celestial dirt nap; which some readers assure me will have me taking the eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire, but I digress….

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Like I said I was anxious due to the previous experience. But, the two of us handled it very well and it was an amicable parting, a clean breakup if you will. I even used the George Costanza tested “it’s not you it’s me” breakup line. But hey, Ces’t l’apres-guerre… (such is life after war)

My plan now is to get with a senior shrink that I know and have worked with to help get me someone more compatible for what I need at this point in life. I just hope that by “breaking-up” with my therapist that I won’t get shafted by the institution.

But I have learned to live with this; I realize that the military mental health system is not in the business of trying to get you better, it is in the business of trying to return young men and women to be able to go back to war. If you actually get better in the process that is kind of a twofer. Honestly I could have gone back to war with  a year of coming home. Going to war is easy, coming home intact is not.

Do not get me wrong, it is not that there are not providers willing to help; there are plenty of them. But the system , crowded with people who need more help than it can provide and without with ever shrinking budgets; almost makes it impossible to get help. If you can be patched up and sent back out, they have done their job, if you crash after you leave the service not their problem. Sadly, I have lost too many friends, some to suicide after they left the military, including men whose credentials as real American heroes were unmatched. This is not a new issue, ask any vet who has dealt with getting post-service care at the VA or anywhere.

Likewise, if you remain in service and have a chronic-long-term condition, of any kind, physical or mental the attitude seems to be “fuck you.” If you get the label as a “broke” Marine, Sailor, Soldier, or Airman your career is pretty much over, unless you are one of the lucky few like me who had some superiors who looked beyond that and protected you. I know that because it is not just my experience but the experience of hundreds of combat vets that I have dealt with.

I can live with this as long as I am on my meds, and have friends and beer, but then I am an old guy looking at retirement at the end of this tour. If I were a young guy, with my whole career ahead of me I would be fucked. So when I retire I will be a pain in the ass to the system to ensure that the young guys who will be fighting our wars in the future as well as those who are out of the military gets the care that they need.

But as far as my condition goes, I am oddly comforted by the words of Raymond “Red Reddington (James Spader) in The Blacklist:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And everyday when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Many things haunt me; but unlike many people who have little self-awareness I might have just a bit too much. I have talked about the nightmares, night terrors and insomnia that I have many times following my return from Iraq. I used to believe, at least back in the first year or so after I returned that I thought that eventually I would get over it. I don’t believe that anymore, now I just believe that I will find a way to live with them.

I guess that is the secret to life. Instead of wishing that something would miraculously take way the pain, I guess that it is better to find a way to live with it because one day something else will replace it.

Is that an ideal way to deal with life? Probably not, but I know that I am an idealist anymore. I used to be, but that was a while back. It took time, but war and the lies of men that I voted for, men who I trusted because they professed my faith, my love of country, and some who even shared my vocation as a priest and chaplain took that from me.

Some experts call this “moral injury.” For me it is connected with my tour in Iraq, PTSD and what I experience when I came home from colleagues, and people in my former church. Betrayal and abandonment is a terrible thing, but I am learning to live with it. It is not pretty but I am learning with every passing night and morning. Alexander Dumas wrote in The Count of Monte Cristo:

“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”

My life is full again, there is meaning and purpose, but it is tempered by realism and the expectation that every day I will wake up and still think about those painful memories until finally something else takes their place.

I guess that the secret to living with darkness and pain is simply to live with it because the saying that “time heals all wounds” is a lie, it is the fabrication of people that don’t want to deal with the real world. God might heal, but then God may not. I have learned to be okay with that. I know that there are some Christians who might disagree and even say that I do not have enough “faith,” whatever that means, but I can live with this.

So I will live with it and in doing so I will continue on and in the process hopefully be there for others that also struggle with pain that does not want to go away and nightmares that never seem to end. As the late Henri Nouwen wrote: “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Not exactly perfection, but it will work.

This now is my goal and my prayer: God grant me the courage to change the things I cannot accept; Serenity to accept the things I have changed; And the wisdom to know I’m different. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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